Chasing… Storms – Chapter 1

Summer. The time of the year I visit the Slovenian weather agency website often. One day two summers ago, I noticed they raised a red alert for NE and E Slovenia. Severe storms were expected.
After seeing it, I quickly packed my camera gear, found some snacks, a bit of water and left. Almost 2 hours of driving were awaiting me and the storms are notoriously unpredictable. The first hour or so I was driving and making a plan.
You see, I didn’t really know that part of Slovenia. I heard of it. I even saw it a few times. But I had no idea where to find a good photo location. I knew there were town and villages. And fields and quite a lot of flat land. Perfect for storm chasing.
However, There’s at least 45 minute drive from one side of Prekmurje to the other. Not taking into account any traffic, navigation mistakes and other stuff I didn’t think of at the time.
45 minutes is an eternity when it comes to storms. Or so I thought at the time.

I decided to stop just shy of Murska Sobota. The skies were still blue when I turned off the motorway and there was no sing of any rainfall nearby. I parked my car and waited patiently. For 10 minutes. I got bored and went photographing local woodland. Constantly on the look for clouds or any distant rumble of the mighty thunder. Alas, nothing happened. The woods were really boring compared to the promise of severe thunderstorms.

The woods were really boring compared to the promise of severe thunderstorms. I was sitting in the car for a long time, roaming the streets of Google maps trying to find some nice location. And refreshing the weather radar feed.
I found some good location ideas around a place called Odranci. And I even saw some storm cells moving in from the neighboring Austria. I fired up the car and started the chase.
It quickly became clear that storm chasing on an unknown grounds isn’t as easy as it looks on TV. Especially if one person is doing location spotting, driving, navigation and photography. Regardless of the issues I had with doing all that at once, I was making good progress towards Odranci. Although it looked like the storm cell will pass quite a bit to the north. I quickly changed my mind and took a turn towards Murska Sobota. After some time I got to my first location. A wheat field. I got my backpack out of the car and I started to look for some good compositions. I don’t think I found any, but the clouds were very interesting. This was my first photo of the day.

Nikon Z50, Nikon 18-55mm, f/8, 1/320s

And when I write ” the first photo”… Multiple photos were stitched together to make a panorama. I also took a single photo of the scene, but the pano simply looks better.

The wind was picking up fast, kicking up quite a lot of dust and large raindrops started to fall down.
I quickly took some more photos before the storm had a chance to close in completely.

Nikon Z50, Nikon 18-55mm, f/8, 1/320s
Nikon Z50, Nikon 18-55mm, f/8, 1/320s

The rain was getting heavier and heavier. The weather radar was showing a large quite powerful storm cell, but there was little lightning and thunder. I therefore packed my camera gear and drove back towards Odranci.

Where the waiting game began. The storm cell I photographed earlier dissipated quite fast. However, it looked like new ones were on the way.

One of the things I struggled with was my location in relation to the storm’s. Why was it important and still is?
As soon as the rain starts falling it’s like a curtain is pulled over the scene. It all disappears behind it. All that remains is simply blurry grayness. The closer I’d be, the greater the chance of rain engulfing me. Not to mention the lightning and the hail.
It was hard to get close, but the shot I had in mind required a good proximity, a shelf cloud, a good bit of lightning and a lone building in the middle of a wheat field. I do realize my ideal shot might have been a bit optimistic, but one can hope.

Unfortunately, another storm cell came rolling by while I was searching for the perfect location.

The storm once again didn’t have much energy in terms of lightning and thunder.

I still took a few photos because there’s always a chance.

Nikon Z50, Tokina 11-16mm, f/6,3, 1/200s
Nikon Z50, Tokina 11-16mm, f/6,3, 1/400s
Nikon Z50, Tokina 11-16mm, f/6,3, 1/200s

I finally felt slightly better about the photos. The clouds were still looking quite good, but this time two of them have some sort of leading lines included. According to popular belief, they guide the eyes toward the main subject. I don’t know if it works with my eyes, but they at least add some variance to the foreground.

The daylight was fading as fast as the second storm cell. Fading daylight gave me a higher chance of capturing lightning. Why, you might ask?
When it comes to photographing lightning one needs only expose for the subject. Lightning will almost always be over exposed. With less light the shutter needs to be open for longer, gathering more light and in turn making it easier to capture lightning.

Luckily, the third cell of the day was gathering strength nearby. I didn’t really move far from the previous one, but I had some time to find a new perspective. Once again, I opted for a wide angle lens and started running around.

These are the first two photos of the last storm cell of the day.

Nikon Z50, Tokina 11-16mm, f/6,3, 1/40s

This first one I really liked. For quite a long time. But something was off with it. I couldn’t really point it out until I noticed it. The problem. The wheat field. It isn’t centered. It goes a bit to the left. Oh, well… I can’t nail them all, can I?
I’m still quite disappointed because I just love how the clouds look.

Nikon Z50, Tokina 11-16mm, f/6,3, 1/30s

Similar to other storm cells, this one also didn’t produce a lot of lightning. I therefore tried different compositions in different directions, doing almost time-lapse. Taking photo after photo in hope I would catch some.

Finally, I had some good fortune and I captured a lightning strike.

Nikon Z50, Tokina 11-16mm, f/22, 8s

There’s not much definition in the clouds, but there’s a lightning bolt and even some red coloured skies in the right bottom. Overall, I like it. And just as I thought it’s over, I captured another lightning.

Nikon Z50, Tokina 11-16mm, f/14, 6s

My first chase took place in June, 2021. I remember being quite tired, because the whole thing lasted over 10 hours. And I remember being quite disappointed with the photos. I believe my expectations or perhaps wishes were not really fulfilled by the reality of those storms. The severe weather warning gave me a reason to expect epic storms. The reality, however, wasn’t epic.

Two years later, I’m happier with them. Perhaps that gives you an idea of what the next chapter will be about.

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